Service-learning “filled my cup up” according to Phillip Chong. The Arlington, Virginia native came to Virginia Tech in 2004 and was part of the Residential Leadership Community in Peddrew-Yates Hall. These programs transform how students learn by connecting their academic and co-curricular experiences and are led by live-in faculty. This approach was one Chong responded to as it allowed him to interact with faculty, attend lectures, and enriched his experience beyond the classroom.

Although Chong entered Virginia Tech as a political science major, he was introduced to the Agricultural and Applied Economics Department ‘almost by accident, and I think it was a very good accident.’ As part of his major’s prerequisite, he took his first economics class with Mike Ellerbrock, a professor in the department.

This exposure to economics would eventually lead Chong to another degree in agricultural and applied economics and to a professor who ultimately would become the single most influential person to him as a student. Leon Geyer, professor emeritus. Geyer taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses across the department curriculum, was an advisor to the undergraduate honors system, and directed and taught in the commonwealth’s largest tax practitioner program.

Chong recalls how Geyer’s class was intimidating, but it truly taught him to think critically. Geyer also encouraged Chong to apply for a Fulbright grant. While he had never heard of the scholarship before, Chong did just that and won a Fulbright grant to teach English in South Korea. From 2008 to 2009, he lived in South Korea and taught English at an all-boys middle school.

Chong excelled during his time at Virginia Tech in many other ways. In fact, he was named to the dean’s list every semester and was a member of the Phi Kappa Phi academic honor society, Gamma Beta Phi honor and service society, and Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honor society. In addition, he served as a teaching and research assistant for environmental and agricultural law classes and co-authored a law review article published in the Drake Journal of Agricultural Law.

In addition, Chong took advantage of opportunities beyond the classroom. In 2006, he served as an intern with the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, and in 2007 for U.S. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. In both roles, Chong utilized the skills that he learned in class to draft research memos and coordinate stakeholder communications. “More importantly, these opportunities taught me the foundational soft skills necessary to succeed in a professional environment,” said Chong.

Additionally, the knowledge he gained coupled with the hands-on approaches of professors such as Kurt Stephenson, Jeff Alwang, and Dixie Watts Dalton, helped him translate his experience and knowledge to real-world environments.

Before entering Virginia Tech, Chong knew he wanted to go to law school. In 2012, he graduated from George Mason University School of Law.

After law school, Chong worked for Duane Morris LLP, as an associate attorney, where he litigated state, federal, and international disputes focusing on employment and complex commercial matters.

Today, he is an in-house attorney for Capital One, one of the largest banks in the nation, where he manages Capital One’s employment disputes portfolio and supports enterprise partners with workplace safety matters, including issues concerning COVID-19.

His advice to students… “You shouldn’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t worry if there is a chance that you're going to fail or get rejected, which I have had my fair share of. Simply go for it and follow your passions.”

And, that’s just what Chong has done. 

By Melissa Vidmar